Maker Stories: Nichola Taylorson
22 Jul 2021
As part of our Spring/Summer 2021 collection, we welcomed the textiles of British designer Nichola Taylorson. Delicately coloured in a palette of dusty pink, a warm almond-hued neutral and misty grey-blue, each of her four linen cushion covers is patterned just as prettily. Here, we share notes taken while we visited her in her small London studio this spring to help you get to know the person behind the pillows…
Let’s start with motivation – what took you down the textile path?
NT: “I’ve always been into textiles. My Nanna taught me how to knit and sew from such a young age, so the interest was always there. When it came to GCSEs, there weren’t enough of us for the actual course to run so I did photography and graphics instead to stay creative. I then studied photography at college to keep my creative side open. I went on to do an art foundation course at Richmond College where I studied everything from printmaking to ceramics – allsorts really. That’s where I first discovered printmaking, and while looking at university options I came across the Printed Textiles Surface Pattern course at Leeds College of Art. That’s what my love for fabric printing really began.”
You design your cushions in your studio, but have them made in India. How did you find your makers?
NT: “After graduating, I actually moved to India and started working as a European Designer for a textile mill. We sold our pieces all over the world and I learned so much from my three and a half years there. India soon became a very special place to me. I loved it so much and always knew whatever I did, India would play a big part in it.
“When it came to making my own collections, I met someone through my dad who was working at an ethical fashion brand. They had great connections to many artisans over in India so we planned a trip over to Bagru in Jaipur to a town full of printing families – the perfect place for us to be! We met so many small makers who specialised in batik, block printing and mud printing, and not long after, went into production.”
And what about the actual printing process? How does it all work?
NT: “All of my work initially stemmed from mud printing – what’s known as a resist print. I’d design the pattern in Photoshop and then send it over to the maker who’d carve my exact pattern into wood blocks which would then be used to imprint into mud and press onto the linen fabric. The mud hardens in the sun so it acts a resist when the dye is printed on later. In essence, the white part of the pattern showed where the mud had been printed on so the pattern was essentially a reverse. The beauty in mud printing is that it doesn’t perfectly print and slightly splodges out – a soft detail that I loved and still do.”
A traditional, time-honoured print technique yes, but does mud printing ever present problems?
NT: “I always use natural materials for my textiles, but mud printing comes with its challenges. Changes in temperature, the season, the humidity – they all have an impact on how the colours come out in the linens.
“After being in business for a while I soon realised that mud printing wasn’t really production-friendly so I then took to searching for screen printing artisans. We use the same prints that we did with the mud printers, but everything is now screen printed – a traditional process too, but one that I can rely on more.”
Let’s talk colour. Can you tell us more about how your soft and soothing palette is blended?
NT: “I always try to pick colours that are timeless and easy to be around rather than trending tones. Playing with colour is actually my favourite part of the whole cushion-making process.
“There’s a recipe for each colour and a Dye Master (yes, that’s his actual job title!) concocts it by eye based on the sample that I provide him with. He has such a talent and does it all by hand, but as I mentioned earlier, things like the temperature and season can all alter how the colour comes out. It’s important to embrace these slight irregularities – it’s what comes with natural materials and traditional ways of working.”
Out of our four cushion covers, if you had to pick a favourite, which would it be and why?
NT: “My favourite is the Naina Cushion Cover in Dusted Pink with the embroidery details. I love the colour and the story behind the embroidery – it’s all done by hand by artisans in Delhi. It takes about a day to do 5-10 metres with two artisans at a time on a big embroidery table. I have a video of it on my Instagram in fact so you can see exactly how it’s done and who’s doing it!”
End to end, how long does it take to make a cushion cover?
NT: “Three months – there’s a surprising amount that goes into it.”
What about sustainability? How does that play into your pieces?
NT: “I’m so conscious of being sustainable in every way I can be. I only use natural materials, everything is done on a very small scale with small makers, and everything is Fairtrade and ethical.”
Finally, how would you best describe your style as a textile designer?
NT: “My slogan is ‘Modern textiles, traditionally crafted’ which really defines what I do. I love traditional methods that artisans use but I love to introduce fresh colours into the collections and the little details of the embroidery are what makes my pieces feel all the more special. Everything is handmade, artisan-focussed, and the slight imperfections are all part of it which all makes my textiles feel a little… naive, which I love.”